Orthodox Jews disrupted a Messianic congregation's worship service in the Israeli town of Beersheba on Saturday (December 24).
During the service, two young women from the nearby town of Arad in the southern Negev were to have been baptized. As the service was beginning, more than 300 orthodox Jews, including many children, gathered and entered the private property of the Nachalat Yeshua Messianic Congregation.
According to the congregation's pastor, Howard Bass, the orthodox were first welcomed to stay and attend the service. Then they started to move around, dance, sing and overturn chairs and tables.
Initially two or three policemen arrived, but "it got out of hand beyond anything they could handle," Bass said, and they had to call in reinforcements.
The agitators struck Messianic believers in the face, back and stomach. Though one received a blow near his eye, no one needed medical attention.
When the demonstrators discovered the baptismal pool, they went wild and started to throw objects in the pool, Bass said. He himself was also thrown in the water, breaking his multi-focal glasses in the fracas.
The demonstrators caused damage to an overhead projector, a front door lock, fencing and cars.
"We can't find a set of keys that belong to the property, and we don't know whether they have it," Bass said. "So we have to replace the locks and the keys, which are a special system."
He estimated total damages to be about $2,000.
The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Beersheba, Yehuda Deri, stood outside speaking to demonstrators during the incident. The police handcuffed two of the more violent agitators but then released them in Deri's presence.
"The rabbi did not claim any responsibility for the violence," Bass said. "The demonstrators never apologized for it, and never regretted it." The congregation filed several complaints with the police.
One Christian tried to videotape the incident, and when demonstrators yelled that this was "forbidden on Shabbat" (Jewish Sabbath), he told them he was not Jewish. But police forbid him to use his video camera, saying it would constitute a provocation. Others, however, did take photographs and videos of the demonstration.
A female member of the congregation said she was shocked by the hatred she encountered from youths when she attempted to enter the building. They told her that Christians were Nazis and that she deserved a bullet through her head.
Those attending Beersheba's weekly worship service, which is conducted in Hebrew, are nearly all Messianic Jews and Christians. Seven years ago a similar demonstration took place in front of the building, Bass said, but the demonstrators did not try to enter.
The two women to be baptized were both over 18. One of them is from a Jewish Messianic family. Both from the Messianic congregation in Arad, neither had arrived in Beersheba when the incident began.
The congregation had planned a picnic following the baptisms. Eventually, the women were baptized elsewhere.
According to Pastor Yakim Figueras, demonstrations also took place in Arad last Saturday in front of his house and other places where believers meet.
Since April 2004, Israeli police have refused permission for large demonstrations in front of the house of a Messianic family in Arad. A lawyer of the ultra-othodox Gur Hasidim turned to the High Court of Justice to appeal that decision in September. The court has not yet ruled on the case.
Figueras told Compass that last weekend's incident in Beersheba could actually improve the position of Messianic believers in court. "It was out of control.
This could be in favor of our case," the Messianic leader said.
Copyright (c) 2005 Compass Direct